12th Sunday Year B - Homily 3

 Homily 3 - 2015

St Mark did not write history for history’s sake. He wrote a gospel, and his reason for writing it was to stimulate people’s faith. The members of Mark’s little Christian community were facing persecution. They were not popular. They felt isolated and under enormous pressure. So Mark made the most of his story to show a Jesus who, with a small group of disciples, was living with them through a terrifying situation and somehow was asleep – unflapped and unflappable.  In fact, he showed a Jesus who seemed to be annoyed that they woke him up. However, for the sake of the terrified group, Mark had Jesus rebuke the apparently cyclonic wind and calm the turbulent seas. Given the unscientific mindset of the time, people, and probably Jesus himself, believed that events beyond human control were under the control of supernatural spirits, whether demons or angels. “He rebuked the wind!”

What was Mark’s point in including the story in his Gospel and telling it the way he did? His concern was his readers, whose faith was under enormous pressure. They were the ones experiencing the storm. And the object of their faith, Jesus, seemed to be powerless, or unaware, or uncaring. As far as Mark was concerned, it was to this wavering community that Jesus was saying, “Why are you so frightened? How is it that you have no faith?” Mark’s point seemed to have been: though they were under enormous pressure, Jesus was not unaware. Jesus was not uncaring. Jesus was not powerless. Why then did he seem to do nothing for them? Mark pointed the finger not at Jesus but at them. What was at stake was their faith – or lack of it. What sort of answer was that?

Let’s move forward to our own time. The Church is in turmoil, and people are feeling the pain deeply. The disclosures of the Royal Commission are humbling for us – though the pain for victims and their families and friends has been around for a long time. For some, the revelations of clergy abuse have stirred up memories of abuse from other sources as well.  All this has happened for faithful people already bewildered by the constant experience of emptying churches, fewer priests and religious, and, for many, the pain of seeing their children no longer sharing the faith that has meant so much to them.

Is Jesus asleep? Does he not care? Is he powerless? Indeed, is he powerless? Does faith give us an answer? I believe in a God who is love, and who, in that love, enables and calls us to love. I believe that love requires freedom. So I believe that God does not coerce people, even to refrain from sin and all the consequent hurt and destruction that flow from sin. I believe that in love for us, out of respect for us, God surrenders all power to coerce. I hesitate to say that God is powerless. And this is where faith also comes in. I believe that, even in the midst of turmoil, God is present, alert and caring, calling and enabling. God does not prevent our being hurt. Jesus told us to expect it. Jesus even went so far as to tell us to rejoice, even “to dance for joy, when people hate you, drive you out, abuse you, denounce your name as criminal, on account of the Son of Man”. Our experience confirms that, through handling crises well enough, we become more deeply human.

Faith also enables us to see others differently. We can learn to see goodness in others, the telltale indication of the presence there of God, even where we previously did not expect it. How often do you see that goodness in your children? But to see God, our faith needs to grow beyond rules and regulations, rewards and punishments. It needs, instead, to grapple with the mystery of unconditional love and creatively to engage with justice.